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South Ronaldsay, Castle Of Burwick

Cist(S), Fort (Iron Age), Settlement

Site Name South Ronaldsay, Castle Of Burwick

Classification Cist(S), Fort (Iron Age), Settlement

Canmore ID 9561

Site Number ND48SW 2

NGR ND 4348 8423

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2016.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish South Ronaldsay
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

ND48SW 2 4350 8430

(ND 4350 8430) Castle of Burwick (NR) (Site of)

Stone Cists (NR)

OS 6" map (1900) .

'Castle of Burwick' applies to the remains of an ancient tumulus. On the west side, where a portion of the earth has been removed by storms, a great quantity of broken bones is discernable, also two stone cists formed of thin slabs. A number of the latter are said to have been removed for various purposes.

Name Book 1879.

A long peninsula connected to the W shore of the island by a narrow neck has apparently been occupied by a stone structure, but owing to the fragmentary remains, no guess can be made as to its character. The neck of the peninsula, which has been the only means of access, has been defended by at least two ditches, the upcast forming three mounds. The highest point of the site has been dug into and a large rim fragment of coarse pottery was picked out of the excavated hollow in 1929. It is now in the Museum of the Antiquarian Society at Kirkwall.

'Stone Cists' are noted on the OS plan as having been found here but no traces of them survive. On the cliff edge at the NW corner of the site a small kitchen- midden was observed.

RCAHMS 1946, visited 1929.

'Castle of Burwick' a promontory fort with secondary buildings, probably an early monastic settlement. The promontory has been cut off in the E by three ramparts with medial ditches behind which the head of the approach has been further defended by a wall, (now collapsed and robbed) surviving as a grassy scarp. Behind it are traces of a rectangular building (12.0m N-S) the W side of which has been destroyed by cliff erosion. Exposed in the cliff at this point are traces of dry stone walling and several upright slabs (possibly the alleged cists of the Ordnance Survey Name Book, ONB) as well as limpet shells, animal bones and burnt stones. A flint nodule was picked up here during field investigation. The remainder of the promontory is occupied by the grass covered foundations of about ten rectangular buildings with rounded corners, similar to those at the Brough of Deerness. A slight ridge along part of the E side of the promontory suggests that a wall or turf dyke ran along the cliff at this side.

Surveyed at 1/2500.

Visited by OS (ISS) 8 May 1973

ND 434 842 Castle of Burwick promontory fort, prehistoric

Sponsors: Historic Scotland, Orkney Archaeological Trust.

G Wilson and H Moore 1997.


Field Visit (August 1997)

The remains of a defended Iron Age fort and probable secondary monastic settlement occupy a small promontory surrounded by sheer cliffs. The promontory is joined to the mainland by a narrow, eroding rocky ridge. Access to the ridge is restricted by three earthen and stone banks, which extend across the greater part of the neck; a short passage between the banks lies to the S side. The banks are up to 2m high and 5m wide. A series of ditches, which originally accompanied the banks, are now visible as shallow depressions. A fourth bank is situated on the landward side of the promontory. Traces of the footings of a rectangular structure (12m N-S) can be discerned to the rear of this bank. The remains of a further ten rectangular structures, with rounded corners, are spread over the promontory. The entire promontory is badly eroded and access is hazardous. Archaeological deposits can be seen eroding from several exposures on the promontory. The largest exposure lies to the NW side, where there has been recent large-scale ground slippage. Fragments of masonry and anthropogenic soil deposits are strewn over the sheer cliff sides. Deposits of stone and a silty soil containing shell can be seen in a smaller exposure to the E side of the promontory.

Moore and Wilson, 1997

Coastal Zone Assessment Survey

Field Visit (9 May 2015)


As described. The northwest corner of the promontory has sheared off in the past, exposing drystone structures and midden deposits in sections on both sides of the collapse. This appears to have been a geological collapse, although probably exacerbated by erosion at the cliff base. Only a tiny fraction of this monument is impacted, and the nature of the erosion is sudden, dramatic high, hard cliff failure along bedding planes and fault lines.

Visited by Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk (SCHARP) 9 May 2015


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